Kids of all ages can have a pretty good idea of what they want to be when they grow up. They want to be airplane pilots, firefighters, or whatever Mommy or Daddy does for a living. Naturally, these aspirations change as they mature and learn more about the world. Not every child sustains their dream of going to outer space and becoming an astronaut, and that’s okay.
At some point, however, a child’s career vision can start to make sense. They might demonstrate talent in music, or an aptitude for math and science, and then aspire to make a career out of it. And as parents, we can have a significant impact on their career path, and it’s often combined with a strong desire to wield that influence.
But how early is it to discuss career choices seriously? And should you intervene directly or take a gentler, consultative approach? Here are some reflection points to help you out.
A straightforward path
Studies have shown that by the age of 12, children can already have a strong vision for their professional future. With all the information that’s available to them, from an early age, today’s kids can reflect thoughtfully on the world and how they might fit in.
From millennials to Gen Z and onwards, the youth are growing up with an ever-greater understanding of how vital education can be in shaping their future. They aren’t blind to the dangers of student debt. The emerging generation is placing a higher value on education than previous cohorts.
When you grow up in the shadow of a crisis, such as the 2008 financial recession or today’s pandemic, you know the value of money in a tight economy. Understanding the opportunities provided as well as the cost of college education, you want to take a path that’s as direct as possible.
Changing majors in college is costly. Finishing a course and then finding yourself ill-equipped to compete in the job market for the career you’ve chosen will feel like you’ve wasted time and money. Thus, if your child feels like they’ve already decided on their job, they might want to be on the right track as early as possible.
Education doesn’t have to be linear
However, specialization (and taking that path early) isn’t always the path to success. Sure, if a child loves playing the violin, practicing can lead to early mastery. They log their 10,000 hours, get into a distinguished music school, and their career is all set. But this career model is far from comprehensive.
Kids can be well-informed, but their information can skew towards the end product and not the steps it takes to get there. They might be discouraged from pursuing a particular career because it requires so many other factors to succeed in the modern world. Perhaps they don’t realize that you can still succeed with a dental practice by outsourcing patient leads management and similar tasks while focusing on the essence of proper care.
Education isn’t just a linear path that takes you from Point A to B. Specialization is only one route to success, and it only applies to a few careers. Scientists who won the Nobel Prize turned out to have a variety of hobbies compared to their less-distinguished peers. In a complex and unpredictable world, generalists flourish. By allowing yourself to dabble in a lot of different interests, you free yourself to become a multifaceted individual.
Guiding their choice
Parents will want to exercise their influence on a child’s career choice with caution and restraint. The life of a child isn’t a canvas on which to project the things you want for yourself or regret not having pursued. Use a heavy hand, and you risk undermining their confidence in pursuing their dreams.
On the other hand, you can’t simply leave them to their own devices. Some dreams can be simply out of line with the practicalities of real-world situations. You’ll have to help rein them in and realign your child’s passion with something more realistic.
You can start exploring the career discussion at an early age, but don’t settle for a superficial conversation. Create the right environment by taking your personal biases out of the equation. Ask probing questions to find the emotion words and understand what creates that meaningful experience your child associates with that career.
When you do this exercise consistently over the years, you’ll develop a dynamic sense of your child’s identity. You can identify the underlying reasons why they might want to pursue a career, which informs your decision to support or dissuade them. And in turn, they will be able to reap the rewards of an education that provides the balance of specialization and breadth of interest that’s necessary for success.